E-learning and training developers frequently create soft-skills training and systems training courses. And in many systems training courses, we need to use a screen recording tool to create software—or application or website—simulations.

If you’ve ever recorded a software simulation, you know there’s a lot to consider. It’s not always a case of simply launching the recorder and capturing the sequence; there’s a more deliberate process to it if you want to create a polished, professional result.

So what’s involved? Well, quite a few things! To tie it all together in a way that makes sense, I am going to use an example scenario.

Let’s say you work as a training designer for a medium-size company called Widgets Inc. One of the directors, Fatima, has requested that you deliver systems training for the customer service representatives on the company’s customer database system, which is called WidgetData. This is going to be your first time creating systems training and you’re really excited (read nervous)!

In this example, you’ve already selected Articulate Storyline 2 as your recording tool, so I’m not going to cover the tool-selection process here. Instead, I’ll focus on the process I recommend for building your systems training.

Identify the Tasks to Cover

The first thing you need to identify is the tasks you need to cover in the systems training. Most applications, websites, software systems, etc., let you perform more than one, so it’s critical you narrow down the specific processes (or tasks) that will need simulations in your course.

I’d suggest interviewing the stakeholders and people involved to find out what the training needs to cover. Once you’ve identified those processes, check to see if the software vendor has already created video or written tutorials for those processes. Nowadays, it’s commonplace for vendors to have already created these types of training materials or documentation; if that’s the case, why spend time doing work that has already been done?

Let’s say you talk to Fatima and ask her a few questions to find out more about the tasks she wants to cover in the systems training. She wants to train learners on how to do the following in the WidgetData system:

  • search the database
  • add a new customer
  • edit a customer profile
  • delete a customer

In your discussion, you also find out that the system was built in-house, so there’s almost no documentation, and certainly no video tutorials, to explain how to do these processes. With that information, the next thing you need to do is identify the specific click-path for each of those tasks in the WidgetData system—in other words … do a task analysis!

Analyze the Specific Tasks

In some cases, you might already know the click-path for the processes you need to cover in the training. When that’s not the case, you should work closely with a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who does know the click-path, or step-by-step process, for completing the tasks at hand in the system.

A few tips to remember when you meet with your SME to walk through the processes:

  • Prepare a list of processes to cover. Don’t waste anybody’s time—have a list of the specific processes you need the SME to show you. Better yet, send the list ahead of time.
  • Capture a screen recording of the meeting. This might mean you hold the meeting at your desk, using your computer, so you can use the recording tool in your e-learning authoring tool. Or, it might mean using or downloading a free screen recording application on your SME’s computer. Another idea is to do a Google hangout or other type of virtual meeting and use the built-in recording feature. You have many options; the point is to ALWAYS record the meeting with your SME. You’ll want to rewatch later on, as the recording will be quite helpful in analyzing each step.
  • Ask questions. Don’t be shy about asking questions. Don’t feel like you are stupid or should know the answers. As the training designer, you need to uncover as much information as you can to understand the “why” behind a process so you can pass that key information along to the learners. Even though it’s systems training, it’s helpful to build some scenarios around it that represent the real-life situations a learner will encounter. When training has relevance for learners, they are more engaged in finishing it.

Now, back to Widgets Inc. Fatima put you in touch with Derrick, one of the company’s best customer service reps, to act as your SME and show you how to carry out the processes in WidgetData. You invited Derrick to meet at your desk to walk you through each of the processes in the system, while you recorded the screen. As he talked you through every click and keystroke, you asked a lot of questions like:

“What happens if you forget to input this information?”

“What are the most important things to remember related to this process?”

“What would be the worst-case scenario if someone did this step or process incorrectly?" 

These are the types of questions you want to ask to gather the critical contextual information that you need to convey to learners about the processes.

Document the Processes You've Analyzed

Once you’ve identified the click-path for each of the processes you will cover in the training, put together a simple document that clearly lists each process. I like to use a nice, neat table format.

You can also augment the process information with some of the information you uncovered with your SME. 

I like to document the processes because it’s a really handy thing to refer back to and follow step by step as I record the actual processes later. You can also easily convert this into a job aid for your learners.

Back at Widget Inc., you’re using the recorded video version of your meeting with Derrick to document each step of the processes you need to cover in your WidgetData systems training. After you break it down, one of your tasks might look like this: 

Name of Task

Trigger for Task

Steps

Additional Info

Add a new customer.

A customer calls who does not have a profile.

  1. Navigate to WidgetData home page.
  2. Click the “Customers” tab
  3. Select “Create New Customer” from the drop-down menu.
  4. Enter customer information in required fields.
  5. Click the “Create” button,

They must enter all of the information in the required fields or they get an error message when they click “Create.”


After they’ve created a new customer, they get a pop-up confirmation message letting them know the account is created.

 

Prepare Your Data

You’re almost ready to start recording your systems training—but before you do, you need to make sure you have all the data and information to complete your recording. Here are a few things you might need before you start recording:

  • Access to what’s called a “sandbox” or “test” version of the computer system software to be able to complete your processes without impacting real data in the system.
  • A specific type of account with certain rights to be able to access the system and have the same view and options that your learners will have.
  • Sample data that you can input into the system for certain processes.

 In our Widget Inc. example, you’ve asked Courtney in IT for access to a sandbox version of the WidgetData system. Courtney also gives you a fake account with the same admin rights as one of Widget Inc.’s customer service reps. This way, your interface will look exactly like theirs and have the same options. In this test version of the software, Courtney says you can go ahead and create, edit, and remove customers as much as you want since it won’t impact any real data.

Prepare Your Recording Area

Think you’re ready to record? Not ʼtil you prepare your screen. You need it to look as neat, clean, and professional as possible, and make sure that you don’t have any pop-ups or alerts that show up while you’re recording. If you do, you’ll probably need to start over, or edit them out afterward, both of which are time-consuming options. I recommend taking a few minutes to prepare first to avoid these unnecessary nuisances.

To recap; before you start recording, you should:

  • Close any systems with pop-ups or alerts
  • If in a web browser, hide favorites and bookmarks, or anything personal
  • Launch all applications and systems you’ll use in your recording so they’re ready to go when you need them
  • Have all of the data you need close at hand
  • Have your step-by-step document ready to follow

In our example, you’ve made sure all applications you’re not using are closed, and you’re sure no pop-ups will appear as you record. You also have the WidgetData application launched right where it needs to be when you start your recording, so you don’t waste your learner’s time recording unnecessary steps. Additionally, you have your process document close at hand so you can follow it step by step as you do the recording.

Record Your Simulation

With your preparation complete, you’re ready to record your simulation! The steps here will vary slightly depending on the recording tool you’re using, but usually you just select the size of the recording area, hit the record button, and then click through the process step by step. 

Pro tip: Before you start your official recording, do a sample test recording to make sure the video quality is acceptable. It’s a bummer to record a lengthy process and then realize after the fact that you need to completely re-record it because you didn’t do a proper test first.

Depending on your project, the type of simulation you record will vary. It might be an interactive simulation, where the learner clicks through the simulation themselves. Or it might simply be a demo of the simulation, with captions along the way that point out what is happening. You might even turn it into a graded quiz game, where learners click through the process themselves and lose or gain points depending where they click. You have many options here, depending on your project, your audience, and what you hope to achieve.

In our example, you’re using Articulate Storyline 2 to record your processes in WidgetData. Once you’re finished, you can reuse that recording in any format you want, either as a single movie or as step-by-step slides.

Edit Your Recording

No matter which recording tool you use, you always have to do some amount of post-recording editing. So, as soon as you’re finished recording a task or process, preview it from start to finish and see how it looks. Then, one slide at a time, make the necessary adjustments to the caption text, hotspots, mouse clicks, data entry fields, and other objects.

A few tips for your captions:

  • Use consistent terminology and language across all captions
  • Be direct and concise; don’t use any words you don’t need
  • Start with a verb (unless it’s a caption that’s just providing general knowledge or information)
  • Don’t hide important information with your on-screen captions
  • Don’t include wordy paragraphs in your captions. Omit anything unnecessary and break up longer chunks of text over several captions or slides. 

On top of the captions that provide tips and tell learners where to go, you’ll want to consider adding an introduction and summary caption for each task. You also want to pop in a few “informational” captions throughout the simulations to provide contextual cues or just some extra goodies that might interest the learners.

In our example, the introduction slide for each task will explain the context and trigger for completing that process in the system. The summary slide will wrap up the process and tell what happens once the process is finished as well as provide important follow-up information.

And there you have it! That’s how you create software simulations like a pro, from the initial request to the post-recording edits. Remember, planning is key. You need to go through many steps before you actually hit “Record” if you want the best output with the least amount of re-recording and post-recording editing as possible.

Looking for more information on this topic? Here’s a juicy discussion from our community that might interest you: What’s the best way to teach employees new software?

Do you have experience recording software simulations? Share your insights in the comments below. Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

29 Comments
Luke Barrett

Thanks for the tips, Nicole. I'd like to second the importance of testing your recording screen resolution and quality before diving into the 'real' recording. It can certainly save you headaches down the track! One small thing I'd like to add is the importance of allowing users to control the pacing of the simulation, particularly in demo-only mode when using text instead of audio narration to accompany the process animations. Having slides change before slow readers have finished reading all content on-screen is a huge source of frustration. I've found that pausing the simulation on screens where there is lots of text (particularly when providing additional information beyond the core process steps being demonstrated), and allowing users to click 'Next' to move on when they are ready ... Expand

Nicole Legault
Tess Richardson

Great article, Nicole! A few things I've found helpful when creating software simulations: 1. The zoom function in Storyline is really helpful when you need to draw the learner's attention to the one task being taught, or just to enlarge a small section of a very complicated user interface. 2. When preparing your recording area, consider what size/aspect ratio you are using in your course display settings and match it. If your Storyline slide are is 720x540, you won't want a screen recording that is something crazy like 1020x480 (okay, yes I just made that up!) 3. I like to use a combination of screen recordings and static screen shots. I've found the way to make these match most closely is to insert the video into Storyline, publish it, and grab the static shots from the publi... Expand

Nicole Legault
Marcus Rummler
Nicholas Sargent

I recently also discovered the value of recording the SMEs. I will definitely do it again. I recently had 2 SMEs tag team for 3 hours showing me over 25+ tasks/maneuvers on a software they needed to test their trainees on. I used Camtasia in 10-minute spurts to gather this session. My brain was swimming by the end. I kept nodding as though I understood everything they were telling me. (Yeah right!) Over the past two months I've milked that footage into a suite of brief "See it" and "Try it" modules. I've watched and re-watched the raw material to understand it and think through a succinct path. So many good comments they made along the way that I would have had no capacity to remember or write down fast enough. Then, as an instructional designer, I was able to distill it into a cl... Expand

Daniel Mitchell

Awesome article, Nicole. I will be passing this on to coworkers who need to hear these tips. For the majority of my Instructional Design work, I've been building software simulations for programs like SAP and ADP, and these tips are spot-on. I wish someone had handed me a checklist this precise years ago. Thankfully, through hundreds of recordings, and lots of trial-and-error, I've come up with a very similar process. Articulate Storyline has been my whole world for this type of training, and it is amazing at creating realistic-feeling interactions. I began with Storyline 1 years ago, and now use Storyline 2. However, there is one thing I'll mention to anyone needing to build software simulations: Storyline 2 is NOT good at accomplishing text interactions. When Articulate upgraded fr... Expand

Julie P
Tess Richardson
Dianne Hope

This is something I've been working on lately Tess - there are a couple of ways I've done this. I pretty much never record the narration while I'm recording the screen - although as a technology trainer I should be able to do this, but I find it a very different situation when you know you're recording something as opposed to showing learners in a face-to-face training session. So, I firstly go through the process a few times before I start recording. Then I do the screen recording using SnagIt (which I use a lot and find an absolutely brilliant program). Then I bring this .mp4 file into Camtasia where I edit it (sometimes quite heavily). I then record the audio while I'm watching the edited file - this is really easy to do in Camtasia. This way it's easy to synch the audio with w... Expand

Julie P